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Perhentian Paradise

by becca on April 23, 2010

We spent our final week in Southeast Asia on a fabulous stretch of beach on the smaller of the two Perhentian Islands. I tossed my shoes off the boat that ferried us to the silky sand and didn’t put them on again until we returned to the mainland. Our time there was beautiful and relaxing, plus we tossed a few dives in for good measure. Here’s a small vivid excerpt from a journal entry I wrote there:

Sitting on the front porch of our little wooden hut, set up about 40 meters from the water, I can still hear the rhythmic hum of the waves thrashing and receding against the fine white sand. Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil tops my charts for the best beach I’ve ever experienced — and after seven months in Southeast Asia that’s saying a lot. The water is turquoise with a series of white caps floating across a gentle surf and entices Nathanael and I into swimming a few times a day, splashing around like hyperactive children.

Our third day on the island, our friend Mikey, one of the South Sea Nomads from Padre Burgos, arrived to begin his forth or fifth season of working and diving on the island. Funds are pretty low (read: depleted) at this point, so we only managed to do three dives, one reef clean-up dive, specifically removing the destructive and abundant crown-of-thorns starfish, and two with Mikey at some of the best spots in the area: Temple and T3. The latter was especially dynamic, composed of giant granite boulders that resembled underwater ruins with plenty of swim-throughs and we found six different types of nudis. Between diving and snorkeling (which we did quite a bit of) we saw loads of humphead parrotfish, more blue spotted ribbon tail rays than any where we’ve been, green turtles, schools of yellow snapper, giant groupers and a lot of other tropical fish.

We spent our evenings on the beach, listening to music, smoking shisha and drinking “monkey juice” (a local whiskey called Orang utan). A big thanks to Mikey for making our last week amazing! Perhentian Kecil is truly an island paradise and there’s no better way we could have spent it.

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In the Dark in Niah Caves

by becca on April 22, 2010

In the middle of the cave, we switched off our flashlights to find ourselves in complete darkness, surrounded by the sound of hundreds of swiflets clicking and water slowly dripping from above. The air felt damp, having long ago surrendered to the unique and putrid smell of guano (bat droppings) that burned our noses. We were in the aptly named Great Cave in Niah National Park, the second largest in Borneo’s grand system, rivaled only by Mulu’s Deer Cave featured in BCC’s Planet Earth (it looks like the same caves to us).

We walked about 3.5 km down a raised wooden path through primary rainforest to reach the caves. First through Trader’s Cave, named for the people who make their living from harvesting swiflets’ nests and guano. Skeletons of wooden shacks still remain from a time when the local traders lived in this cave, which is more like a massive carved out overhang, a cave missing one side. The effect is stunning, stalagtites hanging against a jungle background on one side, a towering roof of limestone above. Swiflet nests are considered a delicacy throughout Asia and are commonly worth about $2000 per kilo, similar to the cost of silver. Harvesting the nests is a big business and to ensure a balance between tourism and tradition, a commision has been regulating the harvesting since the 1950s.

A short walk leads next into the Great Cave. We strayed from the path to walk across a dirt floor into the dark, where openings in the ceiling revealed thick beams of light and the sounds of the bats and swiflets became more pronounced. We then decended a flight of over a hundred stairs into the cave. The cavern just seemed to keep going. Up and down a few more flights of stairs, passing through a few more beams of lights bursting through the roof, then into the deepest, darkest area. This is where we turned off our lights to experience total darkness.

Finally, we arrived at Painted Cave, an archeological gem where a 40,000 year-old skull from a modern homo sapien was discovered, and the site of cave paintings depicting boat journeys into the afterlife dating back to the first century AD. When we visited, an excavated skeleton lay in its grave, now a small roped off area.

After about 2.5 hours of walking through the forest and the cave system, we sat quietly in the serenity of Painted Cave, clearly understanding why the people who lived here so many years ago considered this place sacred.

It took us about 2 hours to make our way back. I hadn’t realized that we would be walking back through the really dark cave, telling Nate that I really enjoyed it the first time, but once was enough. I mean, it was really dark, and just kept going and going before we could see light coming from somewhere other than our weak flashlights. The final leg of our hike was down an offshoot of the main path, which a sign indicated, led to a longhouse. As we made our way down the delapidated path, we climbed over fallen trees and walked through brush that had taken over the path until finally, it was impassable. On the way back, Nate got stung by a jungle bee, then moments later caught his head on a thorny vine and blood spurted everywhere. The thorns on this vine had sliced his head in six different places, and as we learned about a week later, one thorn remained.

I should mention that the hostel where we stayed heped make this trip simple and worry free. We stayed at Dillenia Guesthouse in the wealthy oil town of Miri, where Mrs. Lee makes you feel like you’re home. Borneo’s public transportation system is complicated and even though tourism seems to be a big industry there, they don’t make it easy for tourists to get around. She arranged a car to bring us to the park and back — the driver even packed us a small lunch, provided flashlights and graced us with snacks when we returned. Mrs. Lee also helped us navigate the system to reach Lambir Hills National Park, which was ok — nice trails, great hills, but waterfalls are the highlight and it hadn’t been raining much.

There are over a dozen national parks in Sarawak, Borneo. Some of the more spectacular ones are isolated to the point that you have to fly in and out of the area to explore them. Others are reachable by bus and most have camping facilities. Hiking, camping, caving — Sarawak is an outdoor enthusiast’s haven.

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Mamutik Island

April 7, 2010

We arrived in Kota Kinabalu from the jungle, and had just two things on our mind; laundry, and beach. Before our arrival a nice gentlemen from Holland had mentioned a few islands were very near KK, the largest city in Borneo. In fact, he said a little Island named Mamutik was just a twenty minute […]

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Orangutans and Orchids

April 7, 2010

We arrived at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center around 9:30am and waited as the wooden observation deck filled up with tourists. Later that morning, the orphaned orangutans who currently call the center home as they are reintroduced to the wild and weened off human contact, would be served a modest meal of milk and bananas. […]

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Borneo: Welcome to the Jungle

April 3, 2010

Whether you’re looking for a trek into steamy rainforests to see orang utans or a relaxing boat ride to spot the beautiful hornbill or oriental darter, you’ll find it in Borneo’s interior around the Kinabatangan River. But, if you hope for a “rocking” experience led by a group of local Malays, consider Uncle Tan’s Jungle […]

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Diving. Sipadan.

March 30, 2010

There were five sea turtles in view when Nate grabbed my fin frantically to show me that there was another just grazing my head, its belly skimming over my floating wisps of hair. The fish were so colorful and plentiful we didn’t know where to look as we descended to 35 meters down a 600-meter […]

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Coron Bay Island Hopping

March 18, 2010

Coron Bay is famous for wreck diving and tourism in this area seems to be thriving because of it. And though the diving was the initial draw, visitors are now flocking here for the top notch island hopping. We’ve spent two days on rented bangkas island hopping, and two days kayaking to the best snorkeling […]

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Coron Wreckdiving

March 15, 2010

The landscape around Busuanga Island is exquisite but the history of Coron Bay is what has put the island on the map, especially for wreck diving. The historical chapter relevant for divers began September 24, 1944, when a US Navy force of fighters and dive bombers attacked a Japanese supply fleet of up to 24 […]

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Upstream from Borongan

March 9, 2010

One of the day trips we ventured on while staying in Borongan involved hiring a fishing boat to take us out on the Suribao River to explore a quiet village and a seemingly untouched waterfall. A 15-minute tricycle ride brought us to a small pier where we hired an older man to take us in […]

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South Sea Nomads

March 2, 2010

There’s not a whole lot going on in the town of Padre Burgos. Hugging the tip of Sogod Bay, the town is home to about 8,000 people, loads of children who say “HI!” repeatedly as westerns walk by, the slowest internet connection still in existence today, and four dive shops. Over the past four months […]

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